Smoky Mountain Hikes: Laurel Falls TN

Smoky Mountain National Park was the first national park our family visited and the first time we hiked as a family. We visited Pigeon Forge, Tennessee in 2015, during the school holiday break, and made sure to squeeze in a few hikes, even though it was a little chilly. We stayed in Pigeon Forge, which is about 5 minutes away from Smoky Mountain National Park and visited Gatlinburg, Knoxville, and Pigeon Forge with kids. This area has so many activities for families, that we never ran out of things to do. That is why I believe that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the best national park vacations for families. Here is a review of one of our favorite Smoky Mountain hikes, Laurel Falls TN.

First of all, be sure to take this picture! We try to make sure and take a family shot with each National Park sign. There is a slight turn off where you can park and luckily we were the only ones there.

Smoky Mountain hikes sign Fam

Smoky Mountain Hikes – Laurel Falls TN

Laurel Falls TN: Hiking the Trail

If you are new to hiking, like we were at the time, check out these Hiking 101 tips. Of the 3 trails we have hiked in the Great Smoky Mountains, the Laurel Falls hike is our favorite. It is short (2.6 miles round trip), family friendly, mostly paved, gentle and scenic. We have done this hike twice in the winter (the first time the kids were 3 and 5, and the second time they were 5 and 7). Even in 30 degrees, the falls were plentiful, and although there was some ice as you neared the viewing area, it was safe for the whole family. It is one of my favorite East Coast hikes.

The parking lot is clearly marked and the trailhead is steps away from the lot (very easy to find). If you go to Laurel Falls TN later in the day, parking can be hard to find, but keep trying – it’s worth the trouble.

Laurel Falls sign Fam

Laurel Falls TN trailhead sign

A good portion of the Laurel Falls hike is paved and flat (making it very easy for little ones and “out of shape” ones). A stroller can technically be used for most of the trail, but once you get closer to the falls, it does not fit. See the short video below and notice how wide the paved trail is.

There are many places along the Laurel Falls hike to stop and take pictures, or just to relax and enjoy nature. There are a couple of sections where you scramble through some rocks, and towards the end of the 1.3 miles to get to the falls, there is a steep drop off that you must be careful with your kids.

As with most family friendly trails, there is a payoff – the reward of a gorgeous waterfall! Most of the hikes we do as a family usually involve some type of waterfall or river. Below are some pictures of the end of Laurel Falls Trail.

The return hike back to the car is another 1.3 miles, yet for whatever reason, the way back is always faster than the way there. We stopped to take some pictures of the mountains in the distance, and soak in the woods all around us.

Since it was our first time visiting a national park, I had not heard about the junior ranger program until we left. It was after this trip that I started working on a family bucket list of visiting all 50 states and trying to explore as many national parks and monuments as possible. The kids’ personal goals were to become junior rangers for at least 10 parks. Here are the ones they have done so far:

Other Smoky Mountain Hikes

Besides Laurel Falls TN, there are plenty of other great Smoky Mountain hikes for the whole family to enjoy. Here is a list of some family-friendly trails nearby if you’re looking for other Smoky Mountain hikes in the vicinity:

  • Abrams Falls – a five-mile hike over log bridges and through beautiful forested scenery along the Cades Cove Scenic loop. A good portion of the hike follows the Abrams Creek. Not recommended for little ones.
  • Porters Creek Trail – a four-mile wooded hike with an old cemetery, creek views, historic buildings, and a 40-foot cascading waterfall. It offers great wildflower views during the springtime.
  • Deep Creek Loop Trail – closer to North Carolina, this almost five-mile hike features several waterfalls, wildflowers, and a peaceful river.

Both times we hiked Laurel Falls TN, we were on a road trip around the South and drove up from Miami. On that trip, Tennessee was our final destination, but we made sure to stop along the way at St. Augustine, Savannah, Atlanta, Helen, Greenville, and Charleston.

Every time we would do a road trip out of Florida, it was at least 6 hours out of the state. We made sure to have plenty of road trip activities for kids and used small durable luggage to make sure we have room.

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Laurel Falls cover

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5 thoughts on “Smoky Mountain Hikes: Laurel Falls TN”

  1. Such a beautiful hike!! I wish I could have had the same experience in the Smokies. I definitely have to get back there and explore more. Definitely going to have to check out this trail.

  2. Good call on getting a picture taken with each sign for each National Park you visit! What a great and unique way to stay active and spend time together as a family! As your kids started hiking so young, I’m curious, how “well did they do?” Especially interested to hear what it was like taking them for the first time! Smoky Mountains is high on my bucket list, hopefully our soon to be born little one will enjoy it as much as your kiddos! Great write up!

    1. My daughter enjoys hiking more as she likes to walk and hop/explore more. That hike she was 4 I think and was fine. A little “whiny” on the way back. My son is not a fan of hiking too much, but I take him anyways. He always wants to stop for a snack break and is a slow walker. It’s a work in progress… I always try to keep it fun!

  3. We, well, I… always make sure to take family picture by the National Park sign, too. We haven’t been to Smoky Mountain NP but heard a lot about Pigeon Forge. I would like to hike to Laurel Falls, too. It looks easy and the falls is beautiful.

  4. We love waterfall hikes with our kids as well! Mostly when it’s warm though because they love to play in the water when we get there. Beautiful hike, thanks for sharing!

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